Surviving Lymphoma and Life's Challenges: Leslie's Story

This two-part article was written exclusively for LymphomaInfo.net by Leslie Smith Doan, a blogger and lymphoma survivor. In the first part, Leslie shares the story of her diagnosis and how she got through treatment.

In January of 2000 I noticed that I wasn’t feeling well. My symptoms started with extreme itching. In March I experienced chest pains and was told that it was a bruised rib cage.

During the spring and summer it just got worse – fatigue, night sweats and weight loss. I was 38 years old at the time, married, the mother to two young daughters (then ages 3 and 7) and working full time as a technical writer.

I kept going back to several different doctors and once was told I was a "stressed out working mom" and placed on an antidepressant. I finally took an emergency leave of absence from my job in October when I dropped down to 107 pounds and developed a serious cough.

Identifying the Problem

On Nov. 6, I went back to my doctor's office where I was examined by a new physician, Dr. Kathryn Mitchell. She immediately ordered a chest x-ray and upon viewing the results sent me directly to the hospital because I had an eight-inch tumor in my sternum. All I can remember is calling my husband at work to tell him I needed to go to the hospital and then calling my mother and asking her to buy me some new pajamas and underwear at Walmart because I had been too tired to do laundry.

I spent three days in the hospital and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (large B cell) Stage 1 (lumpy) by Dr. Lawrence Mendelsohn. He said it was Stage 1 because it had not spread but lumpy because it was so large. The day after I was released from the hospital my sister, Lori Canon, drove me to my first chemotherapy session.

I had short-term disability insurance through my employer, so I was able take a medical leave of absence and my medical care was covered by my husband’s health insurance. I felt lucky because I met many other cancer patients who did not have insurance or any family support.

Surviving Treatment

These are important things to remember while going through treatment:

  • Focus on the positive. Several times my parents brought me a California club sandwich and broccoli cheese soup while I was receiving chemotherapy. Every time I completed another treatment, I rewarded myself by either buying a new magazine to read or just renting a movie to watch with my family.
  • Utilize your time. I went through cancer treatment during the holidays, so I can remember working on my Christmas card list while hooked up to an IV!
  • If someone asks, "What can I do to help?" tell them. And don’t be surprised by the outpouring of love and support from family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, church members and sometimes even strangers. My co-workers brought meals to our home three or four times a week for several months. My family picked up our daughters from school on days when my husband had to work late and on several occasions would take the girls out to eat or to a movie. Our friends sent flowers and a snack basket while I was in the hospital, brought over Halloween treats and then Christmas presents to our home.
  • Maintain family time. Since our two daughters were young, my husband and I watched many shows on the Disney Channel, played board games and read a lot of books with the girls while I was going through cancer treatment.

By Christmas, I was told that the tumor had shrunk in response to the chemotherapy! In the spring of 2001, I completed radiation and was declared in remission on May 17, 2001!

In Part II, Leslie discusses life after lymphoma.

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